Tag Archives: brain fitness

Beating depression by being both busy and engaged

When I have too much down time between projects, I can easily spend more time sleeping or surfing Netflix than is good for me. I get stuck. My depression blooms when I am not engaged in IMG_2826 - Version 2meaningful activities. I lean on my SANE Method*, knowing that the first word, Supported, is crucial to moving through a tough period. I have a circle of safe and positive friends on whom I can call.

I also understand the importance of being busy. I don’t usually subscribe to “busyness for busyness sake,” but at times there is value in simply getting out and doing something—anything. This won’t sustain me in the long run, but it works to move me through to meaningful activities.

Family caregivers can easily fall into variations of a similar trap: thinking that the appearance of their parents being busy trumps the actuality of being involved in an activity that’s engaging and meaningful to them, or thinking that — like some impromptu cruise directors on the Good Ship Getting Older — it’s somehow now up to the children to constantly be planning activities for mom and dad.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of value, mental and physical, in spending time with your parents to help them stay active and busy. But I believe it’s the “slow times” and the hours when your folks are on their own, pursuing their own interests in their own ways, that provide the greatest payoffs for their emotional and bodily health.

Just as is true with yourself, the goal is to help your parents get into things they will find enjoyable over the longer term — including activities they might do solo and under their own direction — because those are the ones they’ll do regularly and sustain by themselves.

If you notice your parents isolating themselves more and more, try opening a conversation about what brings meaning to their lives. And ask them how you can support them. Your support — whether is be simply listening to them or assisting them with ideas — can be one of the single most important things you do for your parents.

*Supported, Appreciated, Not guilty and Energized.

 

 

 

 

Four tips to laughing with your folks

I love being with my dad when he watches any of Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther movies. He literally cries uncontrollably and I end up cracking up just watching him. Laughter often comes spontaneously, but there are some days when I have to purposefully seek out fun. Busy caregivers can easily get buried in all the tasks of giving care. “I don’t have time to goof off,” I had one family caregiver tell me. I hear you and I understand that there are many moments in life that feel nearly joyless.

So how do we bring back the fun? How do you play, goof off, act silly during a day? I am fortunate that the man I married is never without a joke—however screwy. And even though most of his puns and word plays are “groaners,” I laugh (as do his daughters; one Mallory and Johnof them seen in the picture,  being silly with dad). It’s good for our emotional health to laugh and it certainly lifts our moods, but that’s not the only benefit.

If we constantly work, work, work, without relief, then our brains — and our bodies — begin failing us. Want an upside? Playing actually helps us get things done. Think about times you’ve struggled to complete a task, becoming more and more frustrated with yourself. Then someone does something funny, you laugh — and suddenly the task is not so difficult. When we shift our thoughts and do something out of the ordinary, our brains are refreshed and begin humming along again. Our bodies benefit, too. It’s been said that when we laugh, we release endorphins — the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Some researchers also contend that as well as lowering blood pressure, laughter increases oxygen in the blood, which encourages healing. Whether or not that’s true, I’ve found that a good laugh is worth its weight in gold.

When it comes to spending time with your parents (something your parents crave and you may dread), nothing says you can’t spend your time together playing. If you’re constantly checking your phone when you’re with your parents, or fidgeting trying to find something else to chatter about while wondering how soon you can beat a hasty retreat, odds are you really need to play.

Try these four tips:

  1. Watch a funny movie together (Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels is one of my favorites)
  2. Put on music from their era and dance (Nothing beats 50s dance music with my dad!)
  3. Reading aloud from a favorite joke book (I’m a sucker for Garrison Keillor’s Pretty Good Joke Book)
  4. Retell funny family stories (Like the time my then little brother Dave had to “relieve himself” on a car trip. Dad pulled the car off the highway, only to have Dave face the car, spraying the front fenders, causing my dad drive in reverse down the highway shoulder!)

Caregiving means taking care of some tough issues. Don’t let it consume you. Give yourself permission to laugh and include some fun time! You can find many more tips in my updated edition of The Unexpected Caregiver. And please, share your tips with me.

Not gonna be a Christmas Angel this year

Happy b-day Kari and Jesus003 - Version 2

1982 and my cake read “Happy Birthday Kari and Jesus”

It’s the holiday time. Oh goodie. Time to gather the family. Whether you like each other or not is irrelevant. We get together because we’re supposed to. Ads on TV and pictures in magazines of smiling, beautiful families (cast in the most traditional roles) surround us, and even though I yearn to be a part of those pictures, that is not my reality.

I worried at family gatherings that my mom would drink too much. I fretted that my sister would say something that would cause mom to cry. I brooded over the fact that, even though it was my birthday on December 25th, this day was not about me. Instead of birthday presents, I received Merry Birthday combination gifts. And they were never more special than what everyone else received.

Those feelings and memories seem so trivial when I consider what I have been given. But to a young girl, those memories created the limiting beliefs I now embody: “Everything will be alright if I don’t make a fuss or say what I want. My job is to monitor how others are feeling, to consider what, if anything, I need to do for them, and put my needs aside. (How selfish to consider my needs when there are so many other needs out there.) And my endless confusion over wanting special gifts but feeling that wish is selfish at the same time.” I’ve always figured I’ll deal with what I want later.

Later rarely comes when you’re taking care of other people’s feelings before yours. I scan a room and take the temperature of how others are doing. I then decide how I need to feel based on the feelings of others. Just writing this makes me realize how crazy this is!

So I’m stuck in stage one of “Emotional Slavery”: believing I’m responsible for the feelings of others. As I dig deeper into the work of Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication, I begin to put more intelligent words to the feelings I’ve carried for years. If others aren’t happy or don’t appear happy, I am compelled to do something. To fix the situation at the cost of ignoring my needs.

This is what I learned being a child of an alcoholic mother. I learned to enter a room cautiously, to look for potential danger (generally disguised as a thermal glass that smelled of pine needles), and to either tiptoe past the room or engage in cheerful conversation about mindless things or cut myself down in an attempt to raise her self-esteem. As if I could.

I continue doing this today. Only now I do so with my partner. I measure his mood before I either share news of my day or stumble through an uncomfortable conversation because I’m not stating what I need; rather I’m attempting to “make him feel good.” Whatever that means.

This is a crazy making! And after doing this for nearly 50 years, this way of life feels so normal that even thinking of making a change scares the hell out of me. If I speak my truth, I will hurt others and will cause pain and will be a bad girl. So I skirt around my truth. I say, “I don’t know,” when I really do know what I want. If I am honest, people will think poorly of me, “How could she be so selfish?” I clumsily try to take care of myself, but more often than not I slip backwards into this dysfunctional normalcy that makes sense and feels familiar.

And why does this all have to come to a head at the holidays? Is it the darkness that draws me naturally to examine my interior? Is it the body memories of a sour stomach every December 25th as my mom, sister, and grandma reprimanded me for feeling sorry for myself? No doubt it’s that and knowing that once again, I enter the holidays with too little money, too little work, and an unsettled feeling about my role in the world. And I feel ashamed of feeling these thoughts. It’s the holidays, for criminy sakes; cheer up!

We have a placard on our fridge that reads, “Notice! The beatings will continue until attitudes improve.” Seems to fit with the ridiculous pressure many of us embrace in the journey to becoming “a better person.” I see the issues that need attending in my life. I uncover ugliness about myself. I read about healthy communication tools, which I clearly lack in my attempts to express myself. Instead, I understand expressing my needs as selfish. And once again I want to run away from the burden of being a conflicted “Christmas Angel” (as my mother named me) and go off to some deserted island and forage for my holiday dinner. At least that way, I wouldn’t put anyone in the awkward position of having to do something for my birthday.

Having struggled with these feelings for much of my life, I often feel that people are just plain sick of Kari’s issues. “Get over yourself!” I hear people say, even though their mouths aren’t moving. And if I could find that magic eraser to remove the etchings in my bones, I would have already cleared out the messages and moved on. But that is not where I am. I am, once again, facing a past that is messing with my present and clouding any future dreams.

I even played Jesus in clown worship.

I even played Jesus in clown worship.

It’s the holiday time. Whoopi. Even my attempts to decorate the house fall short of my expectations. I’m trying to embody advice from others (and advice I’ve been known to dole out): Be gentle. Be kind. Be real. Whether or not you choose to spend holidays with your family or feel you have no choice, be present to what is. I can recognize reality and not have to like it. Reality is what it is. And for this Christmas Angel, reality is that I am unsettled, restless, and searching. I don’t like it, but it’s where I find myself.

How about we not fight with ourselves this holiday season? Huh? I’m going to try to be present in the moments, accept and love myself as I am, and create pockets of time to meditate, do yoga, and hike outside in the cold. The best gift I can give my family, friends, and the world is to be healthy. Instead of being an angel this year, I will strive to be as real as I can, with as much kindness as I can muster.

Poetry in Caregiving

Over the years Dak (a.k.a. my brother Steve) has given me a most treasured gift: his love through words and friendship. I am grateful that we are a sister and brother duo that has grown up sharing similar interests and friends. We played well together as young kids (even though I broke many of his “toy” sticks just to make him mad), acted in high school plays and marched in band at the same time. While living in Denver, CO, he sang in a church choir that I directed (often times teasing me before we sang by mouthing to me, “What are we singing?”) Today we are uncovering ways we can combine our talents to further the understanding of family caregiving and aging. I am blessed to have such a wise and loving brother on my team. It is my honor to share his thoughts about the month that is now closing and the journey of family caregiving. Read more »

Brain Seeks Research: Cash Available through NFL

Ever forget where you put your car keys? That’s normal. Forgetting what car keys are…not normal. What is the difference between normal aging and memory loss? In my presentation called Forget Less; Remember More, I help you arm yourself with the facts about your brain and reduce your worries. We explore how the human brain works and what it needs to stay healthy. I introduce exercises fun, simple activities you do on a regular basis to help build a stronger brain.

Rather than worrying about cognitive decline as we age, I teach the facts about aging and memory loss, about normal function vs. disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. Every 68 seconds an American develops Alzheimer’s disease. That will increase to every 33 seconds by 2050. And yet research lags behind. Why? Because we remain a youth-centric nation and many of the diseases with dementia affect older adults.

Enter brain injuries among professional football players. Read more »

Getting Unstuck

“Open your new brain” I suggest to audiences and individuals. This means setting aside the rote response “I can’t do this; this won’t work in my situation.” By opening your ‘new brain’ you listen to ideas with the attitude, “I wonder how I can apply this new information?”

We all get stuck now and then. For some of us, it feels like we’ve been stuck in those glue traps set out to catch unwanted mice. And we continue doing the same thing over and over, hoping that today, the result will magically evolve. When it doesn’t it can easily throw us into a maelstrom of emotions.

Here are my suggestions to loosen the grip of the proverbially glue trap and open your new brain:

  • Get creative. I know, hard to manage when feeling stuck. So get up and dance! Call a friend or sit and color. Just do something. Don’t think about it. I have adult coloring books, if you’d like to order, and I also provide excellent suggestions for creatively interacting with your loved ones when giving care in my book.
  • Stop the mind chatter. Focus on someone else. Turn your attention to listening to another person and set your self talk on a shelf. This small act brings a double blessing—that person is truly listened to and you let go of your mind chatter for a bit.
  • Walk outside. In all weather. Look up at the trees. Breathe deeply. Listen for nature’s conversation and let it take over your mind chatter if just for a little time.
  • Use humor. Watch a stand up routine or just listen to people laugh. If nothing else, humor will shift your physiological makeup and automatically make you feel just a little better. What will it hurt?

If there’s any way I can help you get unstuck—either with caregiving issues or aging issues or heck, just living issues, let me know. I’m here to help.

I’ll Eat You Up

It’s “Heart Attack Monday” and I’m often more than amazed how many people are feeling the stress of not only Monday, but of life. At the same time. Dak’s blog is worthy of taking a break to read and reap from his insights.

By Dak Gustal

I know you know this, but maybe you, like me, keep forgetting: stress is hurting us now and in the long term. Here’s a study out of Sweden linking stress in middle age with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

A lot of us are prone to stress. Offhand I would say that most of the people I know are stressed out much of the time. We get into habits of worry and deadlines and getting to the church on time and we have headaches and heartburn and midsections that buzz as if from one blow after another as well as shoulder blades that want to lodge in our earballs. There are so many things that seem so important and so needing of our attention and we want to be good and we want to do right and I don’t want my kids to miss out on anything good or get into anything bad and all you talk about is how your relationship is in trouble again and then there’s the economy and politics and religion. How’re things going at work?

Where is the good news? Or if there is no good news, which prescription can I take?

All I got is the good news today, but you are going to have to want to hear it:

Let it go.

See? I know you read that and something inside of you slumped and was disappointed.

“I already know that.” might be one response, but chances are you think if you let it go you will tumble off into space like Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”, only you don’t have George Clooney in a jetpack to save you, right?

Your mind is designed to think and solve problems. It’s really good at it. It also thinks that it is what’s holding everything together. But every day other people don’t do what we think is right, politicians come to conclusions we simply can’t stand, kids forget to close doors, and if we don’t keep marching around setting things to order, the whole kit and the whole caboodle will cascade into chaos. All of this happens in our minds, but it translates to stress in our bodies. Our physical brains are part of our body.

I know you know you need to get control of your stress, but maybe you don’t know that your mind is probably not the best ally for doing this. Remember, minds think. Let’s get our body’s opinion.

Just sit there for a moment and feel your body from the inside. Let your thoughts get caught up in mapping out your feet, your legs, your torso, your arms, your neck and head. Feel all that electricity bunched up in all the usual places that ache? Imagine that you could let it all go. Imagine that you could forget how important everything is.

What if you forget to think about it a little?

You lose your stress a little.

Take another look at what can happen if you don’t get out of your stress habits.

Come on now, you have a choice.

Dak Gustal is a freelance writer and poet living in Randoph, VT. You may contact him at st.augustus@gmail.com

It’s Your Brain: Choose to Shift Priorities

“This is not easy and it is not a “quick fix.” Says Dr. Paul Nussbaum, author of Save Your Brain(Amazon.com). I know Paul’s integrity and dedication to bringing brain fitness to the forefront of all our agendas. It’s time to dive in. You’re in it for the long haul…so prepare yourself for setbacks and slow, steady progress. Journal about the changes you’re feeling and remember, with any challenge, put yourself on the gentle cycle. Read more »

Mental Fitness Challenge – The Five Areas of Brain Health

Ready to start contemplating changes you’d like to make to create a fitter brain?

Brainstorm in each of the five areas just what you’d like to improve. For example, in the area of nutrition, I am increasing the amount of fruit I eat. My diet has consistently been healthy, but I don’t eat a great deal of fruit. I will be working on adding in fruit. (More on the “how” later—for now, focus on the “what.”) Read more »

Kick off to Kari Berit’s Mental Fitness Challenge

Are you brain fit? I’ve been teaching brain fitness for years and now, it’s time to turn inward. Take the plunge and expose all my habitual cobwebs. I’ve created a brain fitness team, brave friends and colleagues who are willing to shake up their daily routines to achieve greater brain health. Read more »